Leo Varadkar: Leadership on 8th ‘not easiest thing’

Showing leadership on the Eighth Amendment has “not always been the easiest thing to do”, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said as he thanked opposition leaders for their support for repeal.

With just 24 hours to go until the public casts their vote, political parties and groups on either side are making last-minute bids to shore up support among undecided voters and appealed to people to make their voice heard through the ballot box.

However, the no side was left floundering yesterday as it rejected claims its campaign to retain the Eighth was in crisis amid claims of a closed-doors row between senior members over Cora Sherlock’s scrapped appearance in an RTÉ referendum debate.

Health Minister Simon Harris said the person put forward by the no side was not important to him.

He said:

No matter which one you sent, they still wouldn’t have had answers to the questions I have asked — What would you do to support a young woman who has been raped in this country? What would you do to stop people having to leave our country every day to access termination abroad? What would you do to support people who have a fatal foetal abnormality?

Mr Harris, who went up against Sinn Féin’s Peadar Toibín after the no side pulled Ms Sherlock from the debate, said: “In the last couple of days the no side have tried to suggest there are alternatives, yet they haven’t brought forward alternatives. I stood on a platform for over an hour last night taking questions, including questions from the no side and indeed with an advocate from the no side, the one who turned up.

“I have been very clear from day one that I was looking forward to a debate and I was always going to participate in the last RTÉ television debate, that’s what I did. Who turned up was a matter for RTÉ to work out with both sides.”

Encouraging people to vote tomorrow, Mr Harris said this is a “once in a generation” opportunity to bring about change for women in this country.

The Love Both and Save the 8th campaigns rejected the accusation of infighting but failed to explain why Ms Sherlock did not attend events over the past 24 hours after her last-minute pull-out from the live TV debate.

Speaking to reporters at separate campaign events in Dublin city centre yesterday, the Love Both and Save the 8th groups denied suggestions the last-minute change was due to internal fallout.

Clare McCarthy of LoveBoth said:

Simon Harris wants to introduce abortion on demand if the yes vote wins, but independent analysis has shown that if abortion on demand is introduced, thousands more abortions will happen in Ireland every year.

Speaking in the Dáil, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin asked employers to be flexible in facilitating people to vote as it is “good for our democracy”.

Mr Varadkar said the referendum to repeal the Eighth is much more than a Government proposal and thanked Mr Martin, Mary Lou McDonald, Brendan Howlin, and other politicians for showing leadership within their own parties on the issue.

“I have often heard people describe this as the Government’s proposal in debates on television and radio. Yes, it is a proposal being put forward by the Government, but it is much more than that. It has wide cross-party support and arose from recommendations from an all-party committee which included people like Deputy Billy Kelleher and Deputy Lisa Chambers, people from my party such as Senator Catherine Noone and Deputy Kate O’Connell, people from the Labour Party and from Sinn Féin, and others.

“Therefore, while it is a Government proposal, it has cross-party support, if not universal support. It had its origins in the Citizens’ Assembly which was established almost two years ago by my forebear, the former taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny,” said Mr Varadkar.

Last night the last televised debate before polling day saw Maria Steen debate Minister Regina Doherty.

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